Turkey media roundup: AKP revving up its engine ahead of elections

Monday’s headlines in Turkey were dominated by the election vows of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who in April announced snap elections to be held on June 24. The majority of pro-government newspapers ran variations of “Erdoğan’s vow” as their headline stories, publicising the president’s pledges to voters. Akşam devoted its front page to a list of these promises, including the vow to make Turkey a global power, lower interest, inflation and current account deficit rates, combat “pre-Islamic customs” that denigrate women and guarantee personal freedoms.

The government has already begun doling out some of the welfare packages pledged in Erdoğan’s “prizes for all” manifesto, though observers have every reason to doubt that the structural reforms needed for Turkey’s struggling economy, or the authoritarian government’s vow to protect personal freedoms, will materialise, as Oliver Wright wrote for Ahval.

Cumhuriyet, one of the few remaining major newspapers without government links, ran investigative journalist Ahmet Şık’s story on the suicide of police chief Hakan Çalışkan, reporting that the investigation has extended to interior minister Süleyman Soylu.

Çalışkan reportedly committed suicide after being caught in a struggle between Soylu and Istanbul Chief of Police Mustafa Çalışkan. Soylu allegedly intervened to secure the release of a friend of his son by Hakan Çalışkan’s department, after which Mustafa Çalışkan stepped in to launch an investigation into the sequence of events.

Pro-government newspapers Star and Yeni Şafak ran front-page stories on Tuesday alleging that Kerim Çoraklık, the social media strategist for the centre-right opposition İYİ Party, is a member of the Gülen movement, which the Turkish government blames for the failed July 2016 coup attempt.

Çoraklık was one of thousands arrested and released after the coup attempt, and both newspapers said that his presence among the party’s ranks indicates that the political formation has allied with Gülenists, and is using their tactics in an attempt to gain votes.

Left-wing newspaper BirGün’s Tuesday headline criticised a newly passed law which allows governors to transport ballot boxes during the upcoming election.

Turkey’s constitutional referendum in April 2017 was plagued by irregularities, including the controversial decision made on election day to count unstamped votes.

With this practice now permitted by law, the legitimate concerns about electoral fraud in the upcoming elections will be raised even further by the new law allowing the ruling party’s governors to transport ballot boxes.

The smear campaign against İYİ Party was ramped up on Wednesday by a number of newspapers including Star, which claimed that, besides Çoraklık, many of the party’s members were undercover Gülenists.

Cumhuriyet and BirGün’s front pages were dedicated to “TAMAM,” (in this context “enough”) the opposition’s new rallying cry, which was unintentionally coined by President Erdoğan himself during a speech.

“If the nation says ‘enough’ then we would step aside,” Erdoğan told the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) parliamentary group on Tuesday. Within minutes, social media users had begun posting with the hashtag, which soon became a wordlwide trending topic on Twitter with over a million tweets.

“TAMAM” made such a strong impact that Karar, a newspaper which usually follows the government’s line, also pushed the story on its front page, under the headline “The people might say “enough”.

The story was also taken up on Thursday by pro-government newspapers Star, Sabah and Güneş, which all called the social media campaign the work of Gülenists. Akşam, meanwhile, called Twitter users who spread the hashtag “bird brains” and said it had been spread by fake accounts.

Cumhuriyet’s front page on Thursday quoted main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s presidential candidate Muharrem İnce’s comments on Turkey’s need for reconciliation.

Using a term coined by the AKP to describe vast public projects, İnce said his “crazy project” if he wins power would be to reconcile the nation, rather than seeking revenge on political rivals.

“Turkey needs a new perspective, a new understanding, a new name, rule of law, and freedoms,” said İnce.

On Friday, secularist newspaper Sözcü ran a striking story on its front page saying that the government plans to use Adil Öksüz, a fugitive linked to the Gülen movement and July 2016 coup attempt, in sensational propaganda before the June 24 elections.

Öksüz, a theology professor who allegedly served as a leader in Gülen’s organisation, was arrested on the night of the coup after being spotted close to an air base that served as the coup plotters headquarters.

He was later released and disappeared; weeks later the government named him as the organiser of the coup plot.

Sözcü quotes İYİ Party official Koray Aydın saying the AKP government knows Öksüz’s whereabouts, and is preparing to arrest him 15 days before the elections. Öksüz will be forced to accuse members of the İYİ Party and the CHP of being Gülenists, said Aydın.

Cumhuriyet’s Friday story reported on CHP presidential candidate Muharrem İnce’s overtures to Kurdish voters, who he addressed during a rally held in Hakkari, a city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.

İnce promised that he would address Turkey’s “Kurdish issue” by releasing all political prisoners and allowing Kurdish citizens the right to an education in their own language.